Thou! Thou! my dear dear Lord, art this rich tree,
The tree of life within God’s Paradise.
I am a withered twig, dried fit to be
A chat cast in Thy fire, writh off by vice.
Yet if Thy milk-white gracious hand will take me
And graft me in this golden stock, Thou’lt make me.
The first line of the poem breaks the structure of iambic feet with a series of accented syllables:
THOU THOU my DEAR DEAR LORD art this RICH TREE
The repetition and emphasis is emphatic the Lord is the tree. Why the need for this emphasis, what is the effect of it?
The poet (in his wooling imagination) goes through the Garden of God and comes upon the tree of life, but then something happens to him. The divine tree he realizes to be more than a tree. The tree is already something unreal, it is divine, it is gold – but now something new comes upon his realization: The Lord is the Tree. This tree of life upon which saints and angels live is the Lord himself.
In this image, Taylor seems to be borrowing a conceit from the book of Daniel. In the fourth chapter we read of the King of Babylon Nebuchadezzar has a dream a great tree in which all the kingdoms of the world rest is the king (“it is thou O king”). Taylor seems to take that image and rework it to apply to the Lord who is the tree of life which upholds the people of God and the divine beings.
And so the poet finds something he did not expect to find: it was one thing to find the tree, but to learn the Lord is the tree has taken him back.
This begins a rhetoric turn which Taylor will use though out this poem: the repetition of a phrase:
This rich tree
The tree of life.
The repetition of the phrase with slight variation is a feature of Hebraic poetry (it is more complex than mere repetition) which would be familiar to Taylor from the Bible.
The phrase “God’s Paradise” harkens back to “God’s Garden” in the first stanza. Paradise equaling a garden.
Next he brings up “withered twig”. This brings in two allusions. First is the man with the withered hand whom Jesus heals as recounted in Mark 3. Second is the dead branches which are cast in Jesus’s parable of the vine and branches. I will quote it a length because it’s imagery of vines and branches and fruit underlies a great deal of this poem:
John 15:1–8 (KJV 1900)
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
Here Taylor begins as a withered branch. But rather than being cast into the fire, he seeks to be grafted into the tree.
He is asking to have the life of the tree flow into his dead life. Which is also a picture from the Gospel of John, “In him was life.”
But there is yet another passage which lies behind Taylor’s prayer to be grafted into the tree. This comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans. In his image, Paul is describing the relationship of Gentile believers who are coming to relationship with the Jewish Messiah. Paul says the wild branches of Gentiles are being grafted into the existing tree:
Romans 11:16–21 (KJV 1900)
16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. 19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. 20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
Taylor has done something interesting with these various allusions. By using the allusion of a tree and the King of Babylon, the Lord’s position is pastoral and political: he is a protective ruler. The use of “withered” brings to mind Jesus healing the withered arm, which reverses the use of withered in John 15, where the withered branch is burned: Do not burn me, heal me. By then using a branch being grafted onto a tree, Taylor takes the personal prayer and makes it ecclesiastical: To be grafted into the Olive Tree is to be in the Church.
This also alludes back to the final line of the first stanza where the tree holds angels and saints (and again supports the use of the tree as the King).
By piling up allusions, he creates greater depth in the meaning of the poem.
The third line is well constructed:
I am a withered twig, dried fit to be
The withered in the first half of the line becomes dried in the second half. The repetition again being Hebraic, but also AngloSaxon in the alliterative first and second half of the lines with the rhythm being more of equal stresses than iambs or other regular feet:
I and WITHERed TWIG, DRIED FIT to be
The pause between twig and dried puts even more emphasis on dried. I am … DRIED.
What has caused his trouble: vice. He has fallen into this state due to sin. This is useful because sin is more than a mere action: it has an ontological component: it is not merely breaking a law it is also to be dead.
The stanza then ends with the incomplete idea: Thou’ll make me.
Make me what?